In an almost unprecedented display of contempt for Parliament, the Government will tomorrow ask MPs to approve the EU treaty even before they have a proper chance to examine what it is they are voting on.
Despite Gordon Brown’s promise that the Commons would be allowed three months to discuss the treaty in detail – as a sop for breaking his promise that it would be put to a referendum – the only text MPs will be allowed to see is a mass of disjointed amendments to previous EU treaties which, out of context, are virtually meaningless.
Only after this week’s crucial Second Reading will MPs be able to read the first “consolidated” text of the treaty, putting all those amendments in context, in such a way that their significance can be understood.
And even this will not be provided by the Government but thanks to a small private business organisation, the British Management Data Foundation (BMDF), run from the Cotswolds by Brigadier Anthony Cowgill and his son Andrew, and funded by some of Britain’s leading blue-chip companies.
Ever since the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon – the new version of the EU constitution rejected in 2005 – Andrew Cowgill has been working round the clock to compile The Treaty of Lisbon in Perspective, a 331-page text of the treaty with invaluable analysis.
This is the latest in the BMDF’s series of masterly publications which have helped to make the texts of successive EU treaties accessible to politicians, businessmen, lawyers and anyone else needing to understand the supranational system of government we now live under.
Brigadier Cowgill launched the BMDF series in 1992 when he discovered that the Major government was hoping to force through the Maastricht Treaty without giving MPs a full text.
When a minister, Tristan Garel-Jones, said that it would be “presumptuous” of the Government to publish a complete text until the treaty had been ratified, the BMDF compiled an authoritative version of its own, copies of which were supplied to every MP in time for the crucial Commons Second Reading.
But on that occasion three months elapsed between the treaty’s signing and the Commons vote. This time, the EU’s leaders are determined to get their treaty ratified as quickly as possible, and Mr Brown has insisted that MPs must approve it in principle barely a month after the signing.
Only by the end of this week will draft copies of the BMDF’s version of Lisbon be available (to order, ring 01452 812837; cost £27.50). By then MPs will have been dragooned into approving it without knowing precisely what they are voting for.
All that will be left to them, over the next two months, will be to discuss amendments to the Government’s Bill in committee, knowing that nothing they say can influence the treaty’s contents in any way.
The only vote which matters is this week’s, which Mr Brown relies on to endorse his signing of the treaty in December. Thus will MPs be asked to give away another huge tranche of our powers to govern ourselves without even being allowed to know what they are giving away. Like Mr Brown’s broken promise of a referendum, it seems a suitably seedy epitaph for our democracy.
On Friday afternoon an east London courtroom was packed to see Britain’s latest “metric martyr”, Janet Devers, a Hackney market trader, face 13 criminal charges relating to the sale of fruit and veg either on non-metric scales or in bowls, without giving the metric weight of the contents.
Among those present were Leigh Thoburn, the widow of the original “metric martyr”, Steve Thoburn, who was convicted for selling a pound of bananas in Sunderland in 2000, and Neil Herron, director of the Metric Martyrs Defence Fund.
The practice of selling produce “by the bowl” was adopted across London after metrication came in under EU law, because many customers found kilos confusing. A week earlier, Paul Smith, one of Mrs Devers’s fellow stallholders on the Ridley Road market, faced 18 charges of selling by the bowl.
The chairman of the bench observed that when he recently saw a bowl of mushrooms being offered at his own local market, he had not remonstrated with the stallholder for breaking the law – he bought the mushrooms.
Although he refused to allow Hackney council the £2,000 costs it was claiming for having brought such an absurdly trivial case, he regretted that, under the law, he had no alternative to imposing a token fine on Mr Smith. This means that almost every market stall in London is now committing scores of similar offences every day.
In light of this ruling Mrs Devers originally planned to plead guilty to the bowl-related charges, while her lawyers reserved their fire for those relating to non-metric scales. On this they believe they have a powerful case, because of the EU Commission’s statement that use of imperial scales made before 2000 is not against EU law.
But when Mrs Devers heard that a conviction might make it impossible for her and her sister to make a planned trip to New York – US law does not allow criminals to enter – she decided to fight all the charges. The court accepted her plea that such an important case should be put before a jury and it is now to be heard in the Crown Court on March 7.
Mr Herron reports that, following last week’s item, many readers have already generously offered help, and further contributions can be made to the Metric Martyrs Defence Fund, PO Box 526, Sunderland SR1 3YS, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked in the Lords last Thursday how much of the latest £2.3 billion addition to the soaring cost of the EU’s ill-fated Galileo space programme had been “raided” from the EU’s agricultural budget, the minister, Lord Bassam of Brighton, categorically denied that any money had been taken from the farm budget.
Yet, as the EU’s vice-president Jacques Barrot explained at a press conference on September 19, “most of the money” to be diverted to Galileo is to come out of “the EU’s agricultural budgets for 2007 and 2008″. This was widely reported at the time, and discussed in the Commons transport committee’s damning report on Galileo in November.
In other words, what Lord Bassam told the Lords was quite untrue. As the Commission confirms, much of the extra funding needed for this crackpot project is to come from “unused” farm subsidies – the largest single chunk of which is likely to be the £418 million withheld by Brussels from the UK as a fine for the shambles our Government made of not handing on EU subsidies to English farmers.
So British taxpayers will have to foot the largest single share of the bill for what Gwyneth Dunwoody MP famously described as “not one pig flying in orbit” but a whole “herd of pigs, with gold trotters, platinum tails and diamond eyes”. That was after her committee of MPs warned that it would be better to scrap Galileo altogether, before it became a “£10 billion white elephant”.
Pigs, elephants or whatever, the entire Galileo project has been shrouded in lies ever since it was launched, and it might seem only appropriate that Lord Bassam should add to the pile. But does he not owe his fellow peers an apology for so shamelessly misleading them?